OROVILLE (CBS13) – The death toll is rising in the Bear Fire.
The Butte County Sheriff’s Office said in a news conference with Cal Fire on Friday evening that 9 people are dead and 19 people are still unaccounted for, as the frantic search for the missing continues in Butte County.
Berry Creek, a town of just 525 people, now has almost every structure burned to the ground, and many of the missing are from that part of Butte County.
On Friday, crews began to assess fire damage across the county.
Jeanne Neely and Jesse Blair, both from Berry creek, called the last few days terrifying.
“It’s scary trying to keep hope,” Neely said.
Both are friends of 16-year-old Josiah William’s family. They said they were devastated to learn his young life was cut short.
“It was heartbreaking, I had to call my daughter and tell her,” said Neely.
Her daughter, who is twelve years old, would play with Josiah, whose mother says was terrified, alone, and ran for his life when the Bear Fire hit Berry Creek.
“He was quiet, reserved, but very friendly and polite,” said Neely. “The family is just so heartbroken, it’s hard to ask for details.”
They are still waiting to hear news of friends as they take a break from the smoke at the evacuation center in Gridley.
“We’re all distraught and displaced. We need to stick together. That’s what makes a community strong,” she said.
Gerry and Deborah Earle had been missing for days.
They said their daughter in Santa Cruz called every agency in town to find them. They fled their home with no cell phone and no contact information for their daughter.
“We’re married for 41 years and everything we own now is gone,” Deborah said.
Finally, late Thursday, they were able to speak with their daughter after a kind stranger let them use his phone.
“He actually let me talk to her, and I know we cried and everything,” Deborah said. “She told me how they had gone to our property and the coroner’s office was going up there to verify if our bodies were there.”
Butte County leaders said more than 425 families have been placed in area hotels. Most of those families are from the Berry Creek or East Oroville Areas.